Easiest way to learn Chinese? ShaoLan shows us one way

The idea of learning Chinese would strike fear into many people. It is commonly seen as a super hard language, especially for western learners, and only suitable for the brightest of the bright.

Whilst it is true that Chinese is harder for a westerner to learn than most other languages. Getting started isn’t necessarily as hard as people think. Today’s students of Chinese have the benefit of many different resources, technologies and techniques that allow Chinese learning to fun and efficient.

This video from a recent TED presentation is a good illustration of the advantage today’s students have. The video clearly demonstrates learning Chinese that it isn’t too hard, even for those with absolutely no background knowledge or experience.

The speaker ShaoLan makes it seem easy by not only being charismatic, enthusiastic and knowledgeable (key for any teacher) but she is putting together a few basic tools for learning Chinese characters into a visual appealing format. She uses repetition, association, mnemonics, and builds more complex characters using the simpler characters you are already familiar with as building blocks. Many other Chinese teachers and study methods adopt similar approaches (e.g. Heisig, Skritter) but possibly not as visually appealing.


Giving people an easy first step into learning Chinese is always going to be a good thing. However, there is a Chinese phrase that is relevant here:  入门容易提高难 (rùmén róngyì tígāo nán) which essentially means that in all things starting is the easy part, improving is hard. It is really important when learning Chinese to be really clear on your goals, and ensuring that your study continues to push you forward towards all your goals.

Of course at our Chinese language school in Beijing then we not only have the enthusiastic and knowledgable teachers who can give you individual attention, but also we are committed to keeping our students up to date with all the best techniques and tools. After all everyone would like learning Chinese to be just that little bit easier.

Rote memorisation

I came across two blog posts with polar opposite views on rote memorisation today.

This blog post  reconsiders the value of rote memorisation and repeated reading as a method of increasing understanding with each reading, where as this post includes rote memorisation as one amongst a whole list of things that don’t work for learning Chinese.

Funnily enough, I think both posts have some valuable ideas, and helpful suggestions. The key being that if you are seeking to memorise texts, it is for the sake of fully understanding them and being able to effectively create new content as a result, rather than being constrained to only ever repeat the original text.

Of all the comments I found these comments by Tyson to be the most helpful (especially his point #2 which is that you want to find a teacher who  correct your pronunciation – a strength of all our teachers, and a weaknesses of many big group classes).

My personal experience of learning Chinese, and what we encourage all our students to do is to ignore any of the hype that says that you can be fully fluent in 3 months if you just buy this package, use this technique etc. Chinese is always going to be a hard language to learn, and there aren’t any foolproof short cuts, however there are lots of tools and techniques that work in different situations. We encourage all our students to experiment with all the different tools / techniques and find out what works for them given their personality and learning style.

Great post on the strengths and weaknesses of SRS

SRS – spaced repetition systems are a really popular learning tool for increasing your memory retention and recall. Many of our students really like the results it produces whether they are using Skritter, Pleco or Anki.

This post by Olle Linge of Hacking Chinese is a great post for understanding how to make the most of SRS, and how not to use it.



What dictionaries or apps do you use to learn Chinese?

Dictionaries whether they are paper or electronic are invaluable resources to the language student. Here at 1 on 1 Mandarin, many students are big fans of the Pleco software available for your Android device or iPhone. However there are times when Pleco doesn’t give a definition for a word you are looking for. What now?

There are a few internet dictionaries that i sometimes go to. These include: http://www.wordbuddy.com and http://www.yellowbridge.com both of which have useful features for the language learner, but i also sometimes go straight to Google translate (http://translate.google.cn/?hl=en).

Using google translate requires a little caution, sometimes the translations are a little spurious, but currently* there are two features that can help you understand the correct meaning when other methods have failed. Hovering your mouse curser over a translated word and clicking allows you to see alternative translations, and at the bottom of the screen there is a button to click that allows you to see example sentences of words that you have looked up. These examples are drawn from various places on the web, so ideal for finding out the meaning of words that have only recently come into popular usage.

*I say currently, because in my experience Google have the habit of introducing neat features for a period of time and then removing them. Hopefully these features will be here to stay.

How long does it take a native English speaker to become fluent in Chinese?

I found this topic on Quora: how long does it take a native English speaker to become fluent in Chinese? I think it would be very helpful to share with people, specially with those who are currently learning Chinese language.

I’d like share one of great answers, this answer was from 大山(Da Shan), Mark Rowswell who is probably the most well known foreigner in China over many years and he speaks Great Chinese, so I think whatever he says about learning Chinese, it worthies taking some time to read through this following answer:

“When I started learning Chinese, I was horrified to hear that it would take me 10 years to become fluent. 27 years later I’m still working at it. Due to my work on television, some Chinese language learners may consider me a role model of sorts, but every day I’m reminded of what I don’t know and how much more there is to learn.

When did I pass the “fluent” benchmark? Hard to say. After two years of university study in Canada, I could only engage in simple conversations during my first trip to China. However, I did manage to have a very spirited argument with a taxi driver that summer. Towards the end of the argument I realized that I was totally wrong, but didn’t care because it was so gratifying going toe-to-toe with a taxi driver in his own language.

After four years of university study in Canada and subsequent return to China, I was able to engage in basic conversations on a variety of subjects. I made my first appearances on Chinese television shortly after arriving in China, so the evidence is there to see — basic fluency but with a very heavy foreign accent.

A year of immersion in Beijing had a huge impact on my accent and general fluency, as shown by the shows I recorded a year later.

So, based on my personal experience I would say that anyone can achieve good, basic fluency within 5 years if you work hard enough and have some immersion experience. That would include reading newspapers (slowly and with difficulty) and otherwise absorbing Chinese media (albeit nowhere near the level of a native speaker).

You may be able to shorten this by a year or two if you start off in an immersion environment, have great teachers, work like hell and are part android.

“Fluent” is a relative concept. I would summarize:

2 years to lie on your resume and hope no Chinese speaker interviews you for a job (because 2 years is enough to bullshit your way through a situation in front of non-speakers).

5 years for basic fluency, but with difficulty.

10 years to feel comfortable in the language.

One lifetime is not enough to attain the level of a native speaker, unless you start before the age of 10. (I was 19)”

Hope above information helpful for you, let us know whatever you may agree or disagree with.

And if you’d like to know more answer to question, here is the link of quora page:



How to say The Olympic games in Chinese and more

With the London Olympics in full swing then we thought it would be appropriate to write a blog post on studying Chinese with an Olympic theme.

The Olympic games (奥运会 or 奥林匹克运动会 to give it it’s full name) comprises of 26 different sports (运动)with many different events (项 目)within each sport.

Here is a list of the 26 different sports, and a summary of some of the different events within those sports. We have tried to make it as short as possible but as comprehensive as possible by removing duplicate disciplines. E.g. We have listed 100m sprint, but not 200m etc.

26 Olympic Sports

水上项目 shuǐshàngxiàngmù Aquatics
射箭 shè jiàn Archery
羽毛球 yǔmáoqiú Badminton
篮球 lánqiú Basketball
自行车 zìxíngchē Bicycle
拳击 quánjī Boxing
皮划艇 pí huá tǐng Canoe / Kayak
击剑 jī jiàn Fencing
足球 zúqiú Football
体操 tǐcāo Gymnastics
手球 shǒu qiú Handball
曲棍球 qǔgùnqiú Hockey
马术 mǎshù Horsemanship
柔道 róudào Judo
现代五项 xiàndài wǔ xiàng Modern Pentathlon
赛艇 sài tǐng Rowing
射击 shèjī Shooting
乒乓球 pīngpāngqiú Table tennis
跆拳道 táiquándào Taekwondo
网球 wǎngqiú Tennis
田径 tiánjìng Track and field
铁人三项 tiě rén sān xiàng Triathlon
排球 páiqiú Volleyball
举重 jǔzhòng Weightlifting
摔跤 shuāijiāo Wrestling
帆船帆板 fánchuán fān bǎn Yachting and windsurfing

Olympic Disciplines


100米跑 100mǐ pǎo 100 m run
马拉松跑 mǎlásōng pǎo Marathon
3000米障碍跑 3000mǐ zhàngài pǎo 3000 meter steeplechase
110米跨栏跑 110mǐ kuà lán pǎo 110 m Hurdle
跳高 tiàogāo High jump
撑杆跳高 chēng gān tiàogāo Pole Vault
跳远 tiàoyuǎn Long jump
三级跳远 sān jí tiàoyuǎn Triple Jump
铅球 qiānqiú Shot-put
铁饼 tiě bǐng Discus
链球 liàn qiú Hammer
标枪 biāoqiāng Javelin
十项全能 shí xiàng quán néng Decathlon
50公里竞走 50gōnglǐ jìngzǒu 50 km walk
4×100米接力 4×100mǐ jiē lì 4 × 100 meter relay
单人双桨 dān rén shuāng jiǎng Single Sculls
双人单桨无舵手 shuāng rén dān jiǎng

wú duòshǒu

coxless pairs
八人单桨有舵手 bā rén dān jiǎng

yǒu duòshǒu

Eights (with cox)
1公里计时赛 1gōnglǐ jì shí sài 1 km time trial
个人争先赛(3圈) gèrén zhēng xiān sài


The individual sprint

(three laps)

4000米个人追逐赛 4000mǐ gèrén zhuīzhú sài 4000 m individual pursuit
4000米团队追逐赛 4000mǐ tuánduì zhuīzhú sài 4000 m team pursuit race
记分赛 jì fēn sài Points Race
奥林匹克争先赛 Àolínpǐkè zhēng xiān sài Olympic Sprint
麦迪逊赛 màidíxùn sài Madison Race
凯林赛; kǎilín sài  Keirin;
公路项目 gōnglù xiàngmù Road race
个人计时赛山地车:越野 gèrén jì shí sài shāndì chē


Individual Time Trial mountain

bikes: cross country

小轮车个人 xiǎo lún chē gèrén BMX individuals
50米自由泳 50mǐ zìyóu yǒng 50 m freestyle
100米仰泳 100mǐ yǎng yǒng 100-meter backstroke
蛙泳 Wāyǒng Breaststoke
蝶泳 Diéyóng Butterfly
200米混合泳 200mǐ hùnhé yǒng 200 meters medley
4×100米自由泳接力 4×100mǐ zìyóu yǒng jiē lì 4 × 100 meter freestyle relay
10公里马拉松游泳(公开水域) 10gōnglǐ mǎlásōng yóuyǒng

gōngkāi shuǐyù 

10 km marathon swimming

(open water)

跳水 tiàoshuǐ Diving
3米跳板 3mǐ tiào bǎn 3-meter springboard
10米跳台 10mǐ tiào tái 10-meter platform
双人3米跳板 shuāng rén 3mǐ tiào bǎn Synchronised 3m Springboard
水球 shuǐ qiú Water polo
500米单人皮艇 500mǐ dān rén pí tǐng 500 m single-person kayak
500米单人划艇 500mǐ dān rén huá tǐng 500 m single-person rowing
团体全能 tuántǐ quán néng Group all-around
个人全能 gèrén quán néng Individual all-around
自由体操 zìyóu tǐcāo Floor Exercise
鞍马 ān mǎ Pommel horse
吊环 diào huán Rings
跳马 tiào mǎ The vault
双杠 shuāng gāng Parallel bars
单杠 dān gāng Horizontal bar
蹦床个人赛 bèng chuáng gèrén sài Trampoline individual race
高低杠 gāodī gāng Uneven bars
平衡木 pínghéng mù Balance Beam
蹦床 Bèngchuáng Trampoline
艺术体操之个人全能与团体全能 yìshù tǐcāo zhī gèrén quán

néng yǔ tuántǐ quán néng

Rhythmic gymnastics individual

all-around and group all-around




Vocab for Breathing Healthy in Beijing


great wall of china

Here are a few basic vocabulary words about health and air pollution that you can use in everyday conversation.

breathe 呼吸 (hū xī)

air quality 空气质量 (kōng qì zhí liàng)

air quality index (AQI) 大气质量指数 (dà qì zhí liàng zhĭ shù)

clean air 清新 (qīng xīn) or 干净的空气 (gān jìng de kōng qì)

fresh air 新鲜空气 (xīn xiān kōng qì)

air pollution 空气污染 (kōng qì wū răn)

particulates 微粒 (wéi lì) or 颗粒 (kē lì)

dust 灰尘 (huī chén)

HEPA High-Efficiency Particulate Air 高效能粒子空气 (gāo xiào néng lì zĭ kōng qì)

HEPA filter 高效过滤网 (gāo xiào guò lǜ wăng)

Air purifier 空气净化器 (kōng qì jìng huà qì)

mask 口罩 (kŏu zhào)

lungs 肺 (fèi)


Goobo: “The air is so clean today! Let’s go for a picnic at the park. The fresh air and the scenery will do your lungs good.”


Palunka: “Are you kidding me? The air is SO polluted today. Stay inside and turn on your air purifier.”


Goobo: “But the AQI reported in the paper is fine. Besides, I haven’t changed the filter in a long time.”


Palunka: “Then we’re going to buy a filter right now. Put on your mask. It’s dusty outside. Let’s go!”


growing cleaner air in your home

Money Plant

There are at least three ways to combat air pollution in your home and outdoors – air filters 空气净化器 (kōng qì jìng huà qì), houseplants 室内植物 (shì nèi zhí wù), and masks 口罩 (kŏu zhào). Most of these options aren’t portable, but check out low-cost ways to help you stay healthy at the MyHealth Beijing blog.

Fight “Crazy Bad” Air Pollution — Cheaply

MyHealth Beijing


Intro to Chinese Music (from Timeout Beijing)

Photo Credit: Timeout Beijing

Check out Timeout Beijing’s informative post on some of the musical genres of China. This is a pretty comprehensive post describing each style and its roots, and has  youku videos of a song from each genre. The genres include 摇滚 yáo gŭn (rock and roll), 校园民谣 xiào yuán mín yáo (campus folk music), 老上海 lăo shàng hăi (old Shanghai music) and 民族歌 mín zú gē (minority folk music) from 蒙古 méng gŭ (Mongolia), 傣族 dăi zú (the Dai minority), and other ethnic minorities.

“Music is a big part of life in China. Curious about the various types of music you hear on TV, in stores, and at concerts? Learn more about Chinese culture through music through Timeout Beijing’s A bluffer’s guide to China’s musical styles. 

China’s musical genres have never solely been based on style. They usually describe geographical differences but can also extend to lifestyles, access to technology and the needs of state propaganda.

Chinese musicians have often been accused of a lack of originality or even outright plagiarism. Many of the early Cantopop and Mandopop songs simply ripped off melodies from Western and Japanese pop/rock songs and filled them with Cantonese or Mandarin lyrics. Gao Xiaosong, a leading figure of the 1990s campus folk movement, argues that Han Chinese (comprising 98 per cent of China’s population) are better with words than melodies because, unlike poetry and literature, music has never played a part in documenting the nation’s history.

Whether his theory holds water is debatable, but the fact that music in China serves as a lifestyle component rather than a driving social context seems to be a consensus. The following are musical genres that are characteristic of China and popular in Beijing.”


 A bluffer’s guide to China’s musical style (Timeout Beijing)